The St. Louis Cardinals made the playoffs on the final day of the season only because the Braves collapsed, but won the World Series. So there’s a school of thought that maybe if the Braves had won just one more game during that 10-20 stretch and won the wild card spot, they also could have won it all.
Maybe. But probably not.
Which leads to this question: Do the Braves need to make a major move this offseason?
General manager Frank Wren made the right decision dealing pitcher Derek Lowe to Cleveland so early. With the trade of Lowe to Cleveland (which will pay $5 million of his $15 million contract) and the $1.25 million buyout of Nate McLouth (instead of a $10.65 million option year salary), Wren has a better idea of his budget long before baseball’s winter meetings Dec. 5-8.
But to do something major would necessitate moving a major player out of the starting lineup. That’s probably not going to happen.
Folks, the excommunication of Derek Lowe could be as big as it gets.
Here’s how things break down:
• Starting players who won’t change: Brian McCann (catcher), Freddie Freeman (first), Dan Uggla (second), Chipper Jones (third), Michael Bourn (center).
• Starting players who likely aren’t going anywhere: Jason Heyward (right field), Martin Prado (left field/third base).
• Starting position open: shortstop (Alex Gonzalez, a free agent, probably won’t be back).
A major trade or free agent signing — putting the payroll issue aside for a moment — could happen only if the Braves create space. But Heyward is not going to be traded, nor should he be. There is a chance if he continues to struggle that he becomes the fourth outfielder, but that’s way down the Jeff Francoeur Road. The Braves have too much invested in Heyward, and he has too much potential.
The other possibility is that Prado, after a poor 2011 season, goes back to being a utility player, which would open the left field spot. But he was so strong for this team in the 2010 wild card season, arguably the team’s MVP, that I think it would take something significant for Wren and manager Fredi Gonzalez to make that decision. Nor is it likely Prado would be traded because he is projected to be the starting third baseman after Jones retires (presumably after next season).
Finally, there’s the matter of who the Braves would be willing to trade. Wren has made it clear he won’t deal any of the team’s young arms, and chances are Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson, both coming off injuries, also won’t be dealt, in part because their trade value is down. Even then, it would take a major offer for the Braves to deal Hanson.
So my personal belief is the Braves won’t do anything beyond acquiring a new shortstop and a bench player.
Is that enough?
The way the 2011 season ended left a bad taste. The thinking is that the Braves need to do something major to get people excited again. But I don’t see that happening.
Would you be OK with that? I look forward to your comments.
By Jeff Schultz